Before L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa went through one of the controversial x-ray machines at LAX this week, he wagged his finger at critics of the nation's increasingly invasive airport security measures, saying that if a terrorist was to be successful again in America, we'd all be asking for more, not less, security. And we'd be blaming folks like him for not doing more.


Revealing x-ray machines and felonious, junk-grabbing pat downs are worthless. They simply mask the fact that the federal government often doesn't have a good grasp on who's getting on that plane with you.

That's the argument of former Israeli Special Forces member Aaron Cohen, who runs a counter-terror training school, IMS Security, in Beverly Hills.

Aaron Cohen has been on the frontlines of counter-terrorism.; Credit: HarperCollins

Aaron Cohen has been on the frontlines of counter-terrorism.; Credit: HarperCollins

The pat-downs, the lascivious x-rays — they're all just Band-Aids for a system that needs to better know the actual people getting on those jets.

“I think that pat-downs and scanners are part of a much larger picture that has yet to be recognized,” Cohen told the Weekly. “The mayor talked about how he sent a team and joined it in Israel to learn about the Israeli model. But there's a layer of that system being missed.”

In Israel, where El-Al has some of the strictest, most-tested and most-successful counter-terror measures in travel, the most potent tool for weeding out terrorists is a one-on-one interview carried out at the ticket counter — way before physical screening would take place.

“We have to look and see who that person is in front of us before they get to a scanner or metal detector,” Cohen says. “Israel would rather have someone get on a plane who's a good person who accidentally carried his gun than a bad person with no gun.”

Did you hear that folks: Metal detectors, x-ray scanners, even frisky Catholic priests can't tell if you intend to wreak havoc on a flight. But people trained to catch your lies, your ticks, and your nervous sweat can.

“Really what it comes down to is using mini lie detections,”Cohen says, ” — micro interviews at check-in by highly trained professionals who work for the airlines

but who are trained by the government.

“Questions generate different body reactions,” he says. “Not unlike poker, there's different 'tells.'”

These are matters that couldn't be ferreted out by machines. The key tool is people.

“Use their brains to look at who's there,” Cohen says. Train them in the critical area of predictive behavioral profiling.”

“It's not a Arab thing, a black thing or a Jewish thing,” he says. “It's a terrorist and security thing.”

Of course, America is the land of thoughtless service. People is one thing we don't do well. The success of McDonald's and Subway provide testament to brainless work systems that practically eliminate chances for error.

If we can barely find legal workers to man the french fries, you think we'll be able to train folks who wave wands all day to tell if you're lying? Can we afford that?

“How much more billions are being wasted on these poorly trained, purely reactive screeners standing around at our airports,” Cohen says. “They're not trained to do anything but pat you down and look at your bag.”

“We're wasting money,” he says, “And we're going to fail.”

Until then, enjoy your groping. And remember, Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year, is “opt out day,” a time when organizers want you to refuse the x-ray scan, jam up check-point lines and make a big point about your constitutional rights.

LA Weekly